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Some Surprises in the Salute to Dave Bartholomew's Genius

March 12, 1993|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

EMI Records' new "Spirit of New Orleans: The Genius of Dave — a two-disc, 50-song retrospective of the prolific writer-producer-bandleader--raises some immediate questions.

To anyone familiar with Bartholomew's work with '50s rock sensation Fats Domino, the most obvious one is: How could EMI put together a 50-song collection and include only five Domino tracks?

After all, Bartholomew collaborated with Domino on almost 60 pop or R&B hits in the '50s and early '60s, including such classics as "Blueberry Hill," "My Blue Heaven" and "Blue Monday." Yet the only ones on the "Spirit" album are "Ain't It a Shame," "Bo Weevil," "Valley of Tears," "Young School Girl" and "Walking to New Orleans."

The additional question for anyone who knows Bartholomew only because of his work with Domino: How could you find 45 other Bartholomew-related tracks to fill up the album?

Though it was the Domino partnership that earned Bartholomew a place alongside the roly-poly singer-pianist in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Bartholomew was also responsible for a variety of wonderfully appealing recordings by such blues or R&B artists as Smiley Lewis, Roy Brown and T-Bone Walker.

Among the most memorable:

* Jewel King's "3 x 7 = 21." Bartholomew was already a celebrated New Orleans bandleader when he was signed by Imperial Records' Lew Chudd in 1949 to represent the Los Angeles-based label in finding talent in the South and oversee their recordings. This sassy expression of female independence, which reached No. 4 on the R&B charts in 1950, was recorded during Bartholomew's first session for Imperial.

* Bartholomew's own "Little Girl Sing Ding a Ling." One of various variations of the suggestive novelty that became a No. 1 single in the '70s for Chuck Berry.

* Smiley Lewis' "One Night." Co-written by Bartholomew, this tale of lustful regret ("one night of sin is what I'm now paying for") made it to No. 11 on the R&B charts in 1956, but it was Elvis Presley's version (with different lyrics) that made it into the pop Top 10 two years later.

* Shirley & Lee's "I'm Gone." Though best known for their upbeat 1956 hit "Let the Good Times Roll," the duo first made the R&B charts in 1952 with this intense expression of troubled romance.

Saluting Bartholomew, Dawn Eden declares in the album's liner notes: "Although casual listeners to . . . Bartholomew's productions can only hear what's in the grooves, those who were fortunate enough to witness him at work know that he put his heart and soul into those sessions.

"As he told writer Jason Berry, 'I don't play around in the studio. . . . In the studio, musicians used to call me Gestapo. . . . All in all, I think we kept everybody happy on the Imperial label. If I had to do it again, I'd do it the same way.' "

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